Here’s a tip for all you phony though thugs at the local evil dojo: when the gaijin with a dead look in his eye rolls into your little fight club, calmly removes his shoes and walks right up into a group of you demanding information, you better hope your Bronze Plan under the Affordable Care Act covers severe concussions, crushed windpipes, snapped arms, and ruptured spleens because you’re about to get a dose of all of it courtesy of that 21st century American Ninja, Casey Something or Other!
If you’re like me, when you heard that a sequel to Ninja was speeding toward you like one of the villains’ patented triple kicks, you were probably using all your ninja superpowers straining to recall exactly what movie Ninja was. White guy, ninja costume, maybe a sword and a broad involved in some fashion, sort of sucked, but not enough to really make you hate it? And it starred a guy who had dark hair, right?
And then you heard Isaac Florentine directed it. You know, the guy who made the spectacular Desert Kickboxer, the uber-patriotic Special Forces, the best U.S. Seals movie (U.S. Seals II), somehow teamed up Olivier Gruner, the Beastmaster Marc Singer, and some guy from Beverly Hills 90210 in the wild west in Savate, and had Gary Daniels play twins in the post-apocalyptic pleasure Cold Harvest! Heck, the only guy whose film resume is in the same league of entertaining exploitation excellence is Sam Firstenberg who directed the granddaddy of all Caucasian black pajama movies, American Ninja!
Make no mistake, Florentine practically violates the laws of physics with how much awesome he packs into Ninja: Shadow of a Tear. That he manages this even as the entire ninja aspect of things is practically an afterthought makes the film’s success all the more astounding, but since star Scott Adkins is so busy kicking the crap out of every country he travels to (Japan, Thailand, Burma), you’re actually just dreading the down time when he inevitably has to stop punching people through walls and tables to gear up for his epic ninja battle.
But here’s the sort of masterpiece of martial arts mayhem we’re dealing with here: when he does have to put on his costume and sort out all his cool ninja toys, it all comes from the graveyard of World War II era ninjas who were known as “ghost soldiers” Japan sent into the jungle to wreak havoc!
And even though Casey proves how tough he is when he refuses to give up any information when the Burmese authorities are burning his leg with a hot iron, or when he gets hit with shuriken and simply shrugs it off, or when he gets impaled with a sword and has to pull it out before getting back to fighting Sho Kosugi’s son Kane (I told you this movie was the punchdrunk pinnacle of perfection, didn’t I?), what really impresses is that he’s able to wear a bunch of clothes that have been buried in the jungle for 70 years without so much as wrinkling his nose in disgust! That there is some serious ninja mind over stinky ass matter!
His origin story involving that stupid magic sword from the first film far in his past, Casey has settled into a life of domestic bliss. He’s married to that girl from Ninja, they work out during the day at her late father’s dojo, and at night he has to make grocery runs to satisfy his wife’s cravings. Cravings because she’s preggers with a little bitty ninja fetus inside of her!
Uh oh. Yep. Goner. Sayonara, my sweet lotus blossom, Namiko. This happiness pendant that I bought you will eventually be tossed sadly into the pool at the Japanese garden you used to love to relax at. But don’t worry, for every one of the 75 or so guys that I beat, maim, stab, decapitate, impale, and blow up, I do that in your name.
One of his friends tries to dissuade Casey from going down this dark path, by giving a bit of what is surely ancient ninja wisdom that the man who seeks revenge should dig two graves. Casey responds with classic action movie wisdom, blandly intoning, “they’re going to need a lot more than that.”
While the story is merely Casey wandering from one kung fu battle to another as he tracks down the evil drug lord he believes is responsible for his wife’s death, Florentine does two things really well in this movie. One is that he keeps the action set pieces coming one right after the other, taking a breath only long enough for Casey to get to the next fight scene. The action is also varied enough that it never seems repetitive, with street fights, fights in dojos, fights with the Burmese cops, a bar fight, and Casey’s ninja assault on the bad guy’s compound that has him heaving grenades into a pyramid of barrels improbably filled with gas!
The other thing Florentine does so well here is that he shoots and edits the action in a modern energetic fashion complete with stylized slow motion and camera angles, but not so that the technology gets in the way of the action or of showcasing the impressive stunt work and fighting.
Nothing much happens here that will surprise you (the showdown between Casey and the drug kingpin in the Burmese jungle seems way too abbreviated until you realize that we’re getting the expected double cross), and Scott Adkins isn’t required to do anything other than to totally dominate every fight scene he’s in except to occasionally glower, but the movie simply delivers what it promises – well put together martial arts action.
Ninja: Shadow of a Tear karate chops your preconceived notions of what low end action films can be, knocking you upside your head with its pulchritudinous parade of pummelings and leaving the viewer to shed a tear of his own once Casey runs out of guys to beat down and get revenge on.
© 2013 MonsterHunter